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Southeast Asian Politicians Urge ASEAN to Suspend Burma, Consider Sanctions

  • Daniel Schearf

A group of Southeast Asian politicians is urging the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to suspend Burma's membership if it refuses to release democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Aung San Suu Kyi testified Tuesday against charges that could put her in prison for five years.

Aung San Suu Kyi said she was innocent when she was called Tuesday to testify in court.

"The Lady," as she is known by her supporters, is on trial for breaking the terms of her house arrest.

The trial has been widely condemned as an excuse to keep the Nobel Peace Prize winner locked up and pressure is growing for her release.

The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus on Tuesday called for tougher actions against Burma, including suspending its membership in the regional bloc.

Charles Chong, a Singaporean lawmaker and member of the caucus, told journalists in Bangkok that dealing with Burma has bogged down ASEAN, making it harder for them to accomplish anything.

"More and more parliamentarians within ASEAN are beginning to lose their patience with Burma. And, we are calling upon our governments to do more than just expressions of dismay, regret, grave concern and so on, and seriously look at suspending Burma's membership of ASEAN," he said.

Aung San Suu Kyi is expected to be sentenced to from three to five years in prison for allowing an eccentric American man, who snuck into her house, to stay there for two nights without official permission.

She admitted in court Tuesday to giving the man, John Yettaw, temporary shelter but denied breaking the law.

Burma's military-run government has kept the democracy icon under house arrest for 13 of the last 19 years.

The detention has long been criticized and was set to expire on Wednesday.

But a Burmese government spokesman on Tuesday told journalists and diplomats the house arrest would not expire for another six months.

Also on Tuesday, Burma rights campaigners say they have collected more than 600,000 signatures from 220 countries calling for the United Nations to get tough on Burma.

Khin Ohmar is with Forum for Democracy in Burma.

"The voices are calling Mr. Ban Ki-moon [is] that he must accept nothing, nothing less than the immediate and unconditional release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners including all ethnic nationalities' leaders," said Khin Ohmar, who is with Forum for Democracy in Burma.

Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won Burma's last elections in 1990 but was never allowed to take power.

The Burmese military then placed the NLD leader under house arrest and has only let her out on rare occasions.

A new election is scheduled for 2010 as part of Burma's "roadmap to democracy" but is thought to be a sham to keep the military in power.

The ASEAN legislators say ASEAN has failed to move Burma and may need to consider targeted sanctions to pressure them for democratic change.

The group includes lawmakers from ASEAN members Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.

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